Over the summer I’ve been busy writing curricula. In the upcoming school year I’m teach five separate courses, three which are brand new to me (two are brand new to the school too!) So I’ve been thinking a lot about higher education and things I wish I had gotten from my 1/2 million dollar degrees. I went to great schools and overall I’m very happy with what I learned. But as I’ve gone on post school (and write those every so large loan checks – thankfully I was heavily scholarship-ed!!!!) I can’t help but wonder what I gained and what I wish I had gained. This is something I constantly think about because I want to provide my students with more than I had. The field of music is changing so quickly yet our education system is basically the same as it has been since the first music degree. Sad. That is one of the main reasons I proposed the two brand new courses (Entrepreneurship for Musicians; Marketing the Arts) I’m teaching, they are skills I had to learn the long way around. I’m lucky to be at a University that wants to be current and grow.
Then a few weeks ago I met an outstanding musician, Phil X. He is a guitarist, of the rock genera. And man can he play. His technique is mind blowing (gave me a whole new perspective on the guitar) and he is literally a walking encyclopedia on every rock tune, ever. He also writes his own songs for his band, Phil X and the Drills; they are currently recording their upcoming full length album and I dare say it has the potential to be a huge hit. When speaking with him I was fascinated to hear how he talks about music, the terms we use are different but yet the end result is the same. We are both passionate about performing and teaching. He is self-taught, self-trained, brilliant and hard working. I’m over-educated, trained by experts, and work extremely hard. So if we are both considered successful in our chosen fields, what role has education played in mine?
Recently David Cuttler wrote an awesome blog post that was on topic of my “was my education helpful” thoughts. David contends that we need to re-think the structure of the typical college music program. I agree whole heartedly. There are two areas in particular that I think my own education my have hindered my development as a musician:
- I spent all the time required in Aural skills classes. I got “A”s across the board. But I think that the way I was trained actually limited my ear. It taught me there was a right and a wrong. And I became so afraid to play something wrong so I almost never played by ear. By not playing by ear, my skills diminished and are now non-existent. Phil plays by ear constantly and the result is he’s amazing at it. My aural skills are actually worse now than before I went to college. I don’t think the point of Aural was to make me afraid. So I’ve recently (a week ago) instituted 10 minutes a day of “play with your iPod”. That’s right my bassoon and I are playing along to whatever iPod picks (think 80s hair-banger rock or trashy pop as that is what is on my iPod). It’s a humbling experience for me and something I wish I had thought to do when I was 20. To me, this use of aural skills is far more important to me than the dictations I did in my aural classes….
- I am good at music theory. I like it. I like the order and the structure. When I was in high school I used to write compositions both pop tunes (my lyrics were something else, think cheesy) and woodwind quintets. Then when in theory classes I learned all the techniques behind composition and thought maybe I wasn’t good enough to compose. I mean, I was breaking like 6 part writing rules a measure in every composition I wrote. So I stopped. Sad. Last year a good friend of mine, who was in these theory classes with me, played me a song she wrote. She’s an awesome opera singer and this was very much a pop/blues song. It was fun! Crap, I used to love making up stuff like that. Why did I stop? Why did I let my expensive education make me afraid? So this week I am going to pick up the pencil and write a ditty. No, it will not appear on this website but it will make me happy.
Though I studied with awesome people and know that the classical music education was important for the paradigm I perform in, I do think that it needs to be revised. For my own studio I hope to do the “open lesson” forum that David writes about. (A concept that hopefully won’t get me fired from my university! ) But I want to have a specific time set aside to teach and for anyone who wants to come, to come. This will hopefully give the students who want to be there more incentive to practice and be prepared and those that don’t want to be there waste less of my time and theirs. I also plan to extend that to high school students in the area who wish to participate, why not have them learn by watching others and asking questions?? I know that every time I speak to another musician I learn something. So why not try to create this culture within my own university by having an open door lesson policy. This is one small change I can make that will hopefully help broaden the standard classical music education.
My other plan for a small change is to have monthly jam sessions with any students(and hopefully faculty) interested. We need to overcome the fear of being perfect in classical music. We need to let our passion for playing be the strongest feeling in the room. So much of our classical training is about perfection when there is no such thing and the musical emotion should be the focus. I don’t want my students to become afraid of what is unattainable to begin with! I hope someday a flute player walks in. Or a guitar player. Hell, maybe someday Phil will walk in and we can all jam out to Metallica.
I wrote and posted this blog entry for the Music Collective…but believe so strongly that we need this discussion that I’m re-posting here!
I’m very pro-composer. I founded a national arts organization, the Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition, to provide composers with the opportunity for exposure. But I am not a composer. I have no skills to write original melodies. I am an instrumentalist. And sometimes I wonder if we’re on the same team.
I’ve worked with a lot of composers performing new works. It seems like there are two types of composers in the world: those that want fees for their work and those that would like fees but are willing to write if you give them performances. Though I totally understand wanting a fee for my services, I wonder if these composers are missing the boat on great opportunities for future income.
For example, for a recent tour to five cities I commissioned four new works from different composers. I didn’t pay a dime to composers to write the works. But I paid all tour costs for myself, I hired the other instrumentalists, I rented the halls, I paid a videographer to record the performances. All in all the tour cost me ~$3,000. I made nothing on the performances, they in fact cost me money. (Thankfully universities along the way paid me to guest lecture while I was in the area so I could afford this venture.) The composers weren’t paid to write the works, true. But they had their works performed in five locations to a few hundred people. They also received video, audio, programs, and pictures from the performances for their own websites and publicity. Some of the works were reviewed so they now have the press clippings. And most importantly, I had the program notes list bios and contact information for the composers. A few months post tour I am pleased to report that many of the works I commissioned have now been purchased and played elsewhere by someone who heard me. This is exciting to me as a instrumentalist. And means the composer, hopefully, was paid for the subsequent performance.
So my question is, can’t we work together? Without the instrumentalist, how would the composer have their work played? Without the composer, what would the instrumentalist play? We need each other! Yet it seems like so much of the time we look at short term financial gain instead of the long term picture. The business of music is a great deal more far reaching than this month. If we go by copyright as any indication, composers are expected to profit off of their works for their entire life time plus 70 years after. So I would suggest composers be smart when working with instrumentalists and find ways to find beneficial arrangements.
A colleague of mine, who I didn’t ask if I could quote so will remain anonymous, plays a lot of new music. When I was lamenting to him about the costs I incurred on a recent performance, that I burdened alone, he said that when he commissions new works he sets up joint allotment of costs. How? He performs the work twice, once where he sets up the performance in his area and once where the composer has to set up a performance in theirs. What a great idea! Now the works is heard twice in two different locations. The instrumentalist and composer both benefit from exposure and both share in the stress and time of planning the performances. Yes, the composer still has to take the time to write the work. Yes, the instrumentalist still has to take the time to learn the work to performance standard. So to me, this is a very sensible business arrangement where both parties benefit.
Does anyone else have ideas on how to have composer and instrumentalist work together? How can we unite the two sides of our field to make a more profitable business?
I have discovered the secret to bassoon reeds! Age the blank!!!!!!!! I talk about this on the reed making section of this site, but this past weekend it became apparent to me how much it really has changed my reeds. I played a concert on Saturday, solo with a band accompanying. The reed I used? The same reed that I used in some of the BCMCC recordings done in January 2011! I’ve probably played 70 concerts on this reed. It is a real gem. And it is still playing fantastic even though by most reed knowledge it should have died 6-10 months ago!
Is this reed magical? No. Not really. I didn’t make it with a blessing of a fairy or sprinkle it was special water. I just made my reeds like I always do. I formed the tube, then I let it sit, unwrapped for at least 6 months. Only after 6 months did I wrap the reed, had it sit another week, then cut the tip. Then shaved it down and did my finishing work. Then I just played on it.
Other “magical” tips: I rotate my reeds so I always allow them to dry out fully before the next time they are used. I also always brush my teeth before playing. Otherwise, I don’t do anything interesting. But doing these three things, especially allowing them a long time to age, has provided me with stable consistent reeds. In my reed box I have only concert quality reeds. 3 reeds are over a year old, 2 that are over 6 months old, 2 that are under six months old, and 1 that is less than a month old.
I feel very fortunate to have experimented with aging reeds. I’m grateful I have planned far enough ahead to allow my reeds time to age so now I have “magical reeds” most of the time. Try it! You’ll be amazed at how long a great reed can live!
As a young bassoonist about a week before any big concert I’d loose sleep over “will I have a reed.” As I became proficient as a reed maker and felt I had control, these sleepless nights diminished. A few months ago I noticed that I no longer lost sleep at 2am over reed fears, I figured this meant I am now a reed genius. But last night at 2am I found myself once again awake, panicked.
On Saturday I’m playing a solo with the St Norbert College Wind Ensemble. I’m really looking forward to it. I have enjoyed watching the students grow in rehearsals and am excited to perform with them. Yesterday was my dress rehearsal. The band sounded the best they have to date. But I did not. I kept cracking notes. !!!! What? I don’t crack! But here I am playing a mini-cadenza and the E above the staff cracks. WT? An E, cracked??!?!?!!? Any time I took a finger off a vent key the tenor note of choice would crack. So my dress rehearsal turned into a dexterity etude with over concerned venting.
I was perplexed by this cracking. But knew the reed I was playing on was old-ish so figured it was dying and letting me know. Last night at 2am I was awake with the “OMG what am I going to do if my reeds keep cracking. What if it isn’t the reeds but my bassoon is broken? I can’t possibly drive to Toronto tomorrow to get it fixed and be back in time for the concert. OMG” Panic 101. Totally crazy thoughts about bassoon breaking in 1/2 while playing. Trying to play bassoon on a reed splinter. Really, my mind can be totally crazy and creative at 2am!
So in the practice room I go this morning. I MUST FIND A MAGIC REED. First reed I play on, cracks in the tenor register. I can’t even play a C without the vent key down. OMG. PANIC. Second reed does the same thing. OMG WORSE PANIC. Have I forgotten how to support the tenor register over night? Then I hear this little voice of reason way in the back of my brain. “Paula, how likely is it that ALL of your 9 current reeds all are afflicted with the same cracking illness at the exact same time?” Wait a second, there is something to that question. That does seem very unlikely. So I start to think about ways my bassoon can be broken. I’m wondering which tone holes could be a problem. Again, PANIC because I can’t make it Toronto to Shane and Frank (Marcus Wheeler Bassoon Repair) in the next 36 hours. And again, voice of reason, “what is the easiest solution.” Hmmm, well the notes that are cracking are all vented notes (well, and that random E that is truly unhappy at the moment) and the thing they have in common is the whisper key not being on, so maybe I should start there.
I look at the whisper key hole. It kinda looks like there is something in there. I grab a piece of reed wire and poke around. I use my bocal swab and clean out the bocal. I repeat this process twice more. I then put on the bocal and play. What do you know. My reed now works! And so does the other one! And the one from the dress rehearsal works too.
Moral of the story. Don’t panic. Look for the easiest solution. It is probably correct. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap!
I’m a classical bassoonist. I’m also a pole fitness enthusiast. I’m the founding director of the Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition, Inc.; I’m also the owner of Aerial Dance Pole Exercise LLC. Often times people think I must have a split personality, but really these two activities go together in my world. I got into pole while I was researching functional strength training as a away to limit performing injuries. Now the strength and empowerment I’ve gotten from the sport of pole has made me a better bassoon performer. Recently photographer Dan Powers from the Post Crescent was intrigued by my duality and created this video about how my two passions interconnect.
Being on tour. To the non-musician it sounds fun, sexy even. It sounds like you are getting paid to travel and see the world. But to the musician it means the inside of hotel rooms, the inside of concert halls, and planes, trains or automobiles. Very rarely on a tour do you have a lot of time to yourself. At least, not in the tours I schedule because my time is limited in the region and I want to cram as many concerts and educational events in as possible. So after a few days, which feel like a month, I always wonder if that was such a good idea.
Yes, it is. But only because I’ve learned how to recharge. The first rule is: any time you can take time for yourself, DO IT! You can’t be “on” all the time. So when you have down time, use it to rest. On Wednesday I had the morning “off”. I whole 1/2 day!!! (Before a concert and workshop that evening.) So I went for a swim, got a massage (which is a whole other blog topic as the person was HORRIBLE) and then had the audacity to take an hour nap (which was so delightful). Then my time was done and I went back to work much happier. Had I used this time to do work, blog, practice, or something else productive, I wouldn’t have recharged. You need to be a little selfish on tour and put your rest time as a priority when ever it is available.
Second important thing: FIND the QUIET. When you’re working with students all day or performing, you’re always receiving stimuli. To me this gets overwhelming after multiple days if I don’t have some time when there isn’t commotion. For me, this means a time like now, when I wake up before my tour travel friend and am sitting in a suite in silence. My ears are appreciating this moment to recalibrate! I could turn on the news and learn about what is happening in the world, or I could just sit in silence and enjoy it. Ah, the sounds of silence!
Thirdly: Work out! Your body is off on tour. You’re not sleeping or waking at your normal times. Who knows what you’re eating, when. So take control over the one thing you can, find a gym or pool and get in a workout. Not only will it reduce the stress of tour, improve your playing, and improve your muscle function (cause let’s face it – planes, trains and automobiles are not actually comfortable!) exercising will also improve your mental outlook. Get those extra endorphins flowing to help you stay positive when you’re exhausted.
Finally, stay smart! Get a hotel room that has space when you can (if you’re going to be there for more than just to sleep). I really like suites for this reason. If you’re traveling with someone this gives you a chance at quiet time. Depending on budget, get your own room when possible. When booking a tour, try to stay at the same hotel for 2 or more nights when ever possible. This gives you a little extra stability and comfort. It also makes it slightly easier to live out of a suitcase. I’m crazy excited right now because we’ve made it to the last stop on this tour, Houston. We’ve checked into a suite at the Hilton and are staying here for 3 whole nights! The tour has gone extremely well to this point and I’m looking forward to a little time to rest before the final concert.
A good pianist is worth their weight in gold…or something else that is very expensive and heavy. The more I perform at an elite level the more I understand the impact those playing around me have. As a student I knew it mattered but now it is critical. It is enough to play all the notes, I need to ay something with them! When I play with someone who is just banging away the energy on stage is so different from open. It’s like I’m trying to fight with them rather than play with them. Like “ok, well, I can do this no matter what you do.” It is subtle but there.
Music, onstage is never about competition but rather is always about connection. When you are really connected with your collaborative artist the works you’re performing take on a new level of shine and excitement. Another helpful thing, if my pianist is solid rhythmically, I’m more relaxed and usually have better technique. Being more relaxed also allows me a great sense of expression. That expression is also more diverse and convincing when the collaborative artist is also being expressive. When we tell stories together the plot is so much more interesting!
I’m extremely excited today because I get to play a recital with Chuck Dillard at UT who is outstanding. Rehearsing yesterday was so easy and fun. The music flowed, my technique was effortless, and the stories we told were complex yet simple. I’m so luck to get to share these works today with a gifted artist. It is going to be FUN!
Working out is critical to my playing. I perform much better if do something to workout the morning before a performance. So while on tour, I go the the gym. At home I’m spoiled, I have treadmill in my home and I OWN a gorgeous dance studio with all the functional strength training fun a gal could need. So the only “gym” I attend is the YMCA for lap swimming. So going to gyms on tour always fascinates me. And begs the questions, are you at the gym or the library?
How can you have good form if you are hunched over a book or magazine? How can you be working out at your optimal level if you are having a conversation on your cell phone? Doesn’t it sound weird to the other person on the phone? How effectively are you using your body if you are running and texting? How do you not fall off? The guy that takes the cake this morning had a show on his personal TV, a Kindle propped up and was concurrently reading a book, AND had his phone in his hand the entire time to send multiple SMS while riding his stationary bike. Really? Do you hate working out that much that you need that many distractions?
If you are at the gym, embrace it! Pay attention to your body!!!!!!! I get that it helps to pass the time to do all the other stuff, but are you able to hear your body’s needs through the clutter and distractions? No. Working out is meant to get you in touch with your body not further distract you from it’s requirements. LISTEN. Feel each step. Relish the unhappy moments of discomfort and the endurance you are creating. Pay attention to when something feels tight or when it feels great. Breath to fuel your muscles. Working out should nourish your body AND feed your soul. Put the crap down and get to it!
Courtesy of United, tour got off to a rocky start. I will never understand why a company would outsource your help line to a country that is unable to actually provide your customers with help!!!! They cancelled my flight for no apparent reason at 10pm the night before my 6am departure. Lovely. Then I listened to “Rhapsody in Blue” at least 15 times waiting for my “agent” to be useful. After 1 hour and 45 minutes I gave up and decided to instead go to the airport early to get on a plane. Delta saved the day and I made it to Memphis only 2 hours later than originally planned.
I arrived in time for the first masterclass. What a treat! Lecolion Washington has a built a lovely program. The students are very down to earth, thoughtful and eager to learn. High quality recruiting by Lecolion! Working with them was a blast. The Double Reed Festival is a annual event that really impressed me. The funding and support is outstanding as they had 3 bassoonists and 2 oboists as guests. They had an outstanding turn out and it is no wonder given the excitement generated by Lecolion and Michelle Vigneau. The number of high school players that were involved was outstanding, I’d guess 50 kids! And the interaction between studio members and younger players was beautiful to see. The University of Memphis Double Reed Festival is an event that brings players together and provides a real sense of community with lots of education thrown in!
The other awesome thing about the Double Reed Festival is that Memphis brings in multiple artists. Albie Micklich was a player I always respected but I never really knew him outside of the standard “hi” conversations. For two days I got to work with him, trading off in masterclasses. Wow, what an inspiring teacher. It was so interesting to hear his thoughts on players. He worked with a student on Maslanka that has now finally gotten me to play some of his works! I also had the treat of hearing Albie play, which is always a delight.
Included in the program was the Premiere of Stefan Cwik’s new work for bassoon and piano, “6 Movements”. I had an absolute blast on stage sharing this with the audience. Both Lecolion and Albie found the work interesting and I think many bassoon players in the future will want to play the work. It is very well conceived by Stefan. It has a couple of “hard” bits then some really sight-readable bits. The contrasts between the 6 movements are playful and diverse. I really love the singing 3 movement that showcase the lyrical beauty of the bassoon and then a very sassy 4 movement. There are excellent rhythmical counterpoint that are really exciting. I feel fortunate to have been introduced to Stefan’s work via the 2010 BCMCC and think he is a hot young composer for all bassoonists to watch!
All of the music stuff was great. The three masterclass were really fun. The performances were inspiring. AND I got to spend social time with Lecolion and Ablie!!!!! Not only are they fantastic players, that are also inspiring teachers, they are FUN! Both are extremely intelligent and have many varied interests outside of music. They have fantastic work ethics and we share similar philosophies on the field. I feel privileged to have them as colleagues.
It was a WONDERFUL event. I woke up on Sunday excited to practice! I just feel so lucky that this is my job. I appreciate the invitation by Lecolion and Michelle to be part of their fantastic event.
It’s the day before I go on tour. I have checked in to my flight and printed my boarding pass. My mile long check-list of things I HAD to do before leaving has all but two things crossed off (and one of those is happening in 2.5 hours, the other in 4). I think the hardest part of owning a business is planning ahead. Because I’m about to leave for 10 days I had to do problem solving in advance for ANYTHING that could come up. I’m very lucky because my employees are great. But man does it take a lot of thinking to get things in place to leave for 10 days.
But that is really the story of my life, isn’t it? As a bassoonist, I’m about to go on tour so I started the reeds I plan on playing on 6-9 months ago. They were rested and tips clipped within the last 2-10 days. Today I continued to refine and break them in so for the first performance I’ll have a beautiful reed. Planning is my life.
Now I have to “plan” my footwear. With my bassoon stuff and injury prevention workshop stuff I only have 2/3 of my checked suitcase for my own use. So am I really going to have room for ALL the shoes I want to bring? Sadly no. Stupid airlines and their expensive bag fees! So packing will be very strategic. Obviously the Vibram will get the nod because I will be jogging a lot in the mornings to decrease performance anxiety symptoms. And of course my concert heels will be coming (and yes, I will limit myself to one pair and a spare.) But then comes the issue, how many boots. And this is Texas, shouldn’t I be bringing more sandals? It’s FREEZING out today so that is hard to imagine. Oh how I long for warmth!!!!!!! Texas here I come….after I pack….